Characters in 'As It Is In Heaven' are not participating in a strange diet fad ... they are fasting to prepare for the Rapture. Credit: Rustin Thompson
Dieting websites state that during a 30-day water fast a person loses about one pound per day. A reasonably trim and healthy young man or woman will begin to look fairly scrawny, even gaunt, by the end of the fast, and certainly weakened by the ordeal.
But the dozen or so individuals who undergo the fast in As It Is In Heaven appear to handle it quite well. The only evidence of their self-enforced starvation can be seen in the dark patches under their eyes, as if they stayed up all night cramming for a test or, as is possible with this film, they just emerged from a 24-hour prayer circle.
You see, the movie is not about a fad diet, it’s about a religious cult. But very little of what happens in this film (in a film in which very little does happen) is believable. And this in turn presents a problem for a film that is all about belief.
The group of twenty- and thirty-somethings living within the walls of a tidy farmhouse parked on the bucolic grounds of a lovely southern estate have recently lost their avuncular leader, a self-styled prophet who died merely a month before he promised them all they would be whisked off to heaven. On his deathbed, he passed the mantle of leadership to one of his acolytes, a clean-cut, freshly scrubbed believer with the blazing bright blue eyes of either a newly minted priest or a madman.
He decides a 30-day fast is in order to prepare them all for the Rapture, and nearly everyone falls in line, stripping the cupboards and refrigerator of food, and settling in for lots of prayer and conversation. There is one outlier who suspects their new leader is a fraud, and their ensuing tussle generates the film’s miniscule amount of dramatic tension.
Most of the time the characters plod about the farm with seemingly little to do, dressed in crisp short-sleeve shirts, summer dresses, and neat blue jeans, earnestly and dutifully going through the motions of the skimpy plot as if completing a class project. And guess what? It is a class project!
Directed by a media communications professor from Asbury University in Kentucky, produced and crewed by several of his students, the movie was made on a Kickstarter budget of $10,000. Although the spare change is evident in the arid art direction and narrative tentativeness, the filmmakers worked with professional talent and a donated Canon camera. As a result, the acting is serviceable, the visuals are never distracting and the studious pacing doesn’t overheat its under-baked narrative.
A final sequence set in a field, the cult members dressed in white robes, their eyes turned toward the heavens, manages to credibly convey their confusion when it appears God has given them a pass. This scene suggests an abandonment, and to my eyes it seemed like a good place to start the film, not end it.
But the picture is as thin as a paper syllabus, a mere outline of ideas, absent of backstories and motivation, with a forced credulity working hard to keep things interesting. You never get a sense of who these characters are, how they earn any type of living, what or why they believe or how they manage to keep their house so spotless.
There is also a pivotal scene that relies on a grievous error in continuity. Two characters struggle on the lawn, a closed toolbox next to one of their heads. One cutaway later, the toolbox is now miraculously open, enabling a hammer to be conveniently used as a murder weapon. The mistake would be barely excusable in a student film, but it in a movie that begs to be accepted as a serious, professional work, it’s unforgivable.
If you go: The movie plays from July 18 to July 24 at Northwest Film Forum.